Blumenauer Bill Would Level the Field for Commuter Tax Benefits

You can tell by the bike pin on his lapel that Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is a lawmaker who gets it. Thankfully, Blumenauer’s policies live up to his accessories: His recently introduced “Commuter Relief Act” would expand tax credits for those who commute by bike, foot, carpool or transit.

Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) wants to bring bike commuter tax benefits in line with those given to drivers. Photo##http://www.grist.org/transportation/2011-05-09-rep.-earl-blumenauer-wants-bike-transit-commuters-to-get-better-## Grist##

The bill would bring tax incentives for non-automotive modes in line with those for driving, allowing employees to take cash instead of parking benefits from employers and raising the bike tax benefit from $20 to $40 per month.

Sarah Goodyear at Grist had the opportunity to interview Blumenauer about the bill. Here’s what he had to say:

“Our goal is to lay out a budget-neutral alternative that gives people some choices,” he said. “One of my favorite options here is giving people the opportunity to cash in their employer-provided parking. Giving a commuter the opportunity to say, I’d like to take that money and buy a bike and a bus pass and enrich my life and my health.” He acknowledges that bike commuting isn’t for everyone. But he says that acknowledging bicycles as a legitimate transportation option is an important step. “Will everybody do it? No,” he said. “But it’s an affirmation of people’s choices. And giving people choices … These are things that slowly but surely, they don’t tilt the playing field, but they level it.”

I asked Blumenauer what kind of pushback he expects on the legislation.

“There are some people for whom the symbolism bothers them,” he told me. “They try to portray it as anti-car — or that we’re trying to socially engineer. As if there’s no social engineering involved if you have lavish subsidies for the single-occupant automobile commuter and little or no commensurate benefit for people who burn calories instead of fossil fuel.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cycleicio.us reports that Levi’s has introduced a new “commuter” jean specifically for cyclists. Bikes beat trains and cars in a speed matchup in San Jose, according to the Rails to Trails Conservancy. And Commute By Bike‘s conservative blogger weighs in on the Arlington GOP’s complaints over the loss of eight parking spots to make way for CaBi expansion.

  • Kevin

    Sounds awesome. But eventually I hope that we can move beyond a tax credit system managed through employers. I’ve been bugging HR at work since last November to sign up for the Bike Commuter Act but they have little incentive to do it. Plus paperwork with the IRS takes months!

    I hope that we can design a system to benefit working class bike commuters, who often have more miles under their belt but find it hard to afford lights/helmets/repairs. These people have the most to gain.

  • Anonymous

    I have roughly 900 people at my downtown office. About 9% of them ride their bikes for some purpose some part of the year. Nearly half of them cannot use the existing bike subsidy because they *need* to cross a Bay with transit. Closing that gap is not only equitable, but could attract more people who live further out and would ride to transit (instead of drive).

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